You are to assume nothing, apparently, from a winless preseason, or so went the story inside the Steelers locker room this week. Further, you are to assume nothing from recent Steelers personnel moves that demonstrate not a lick of confidence in running backs, the tight ends, the depth of the offensive line, or even Punter I and Punter II: The Zoltan Prequels.
Finally, you are not to assume such a team might actually be in trouble, particularly from a confidence standpoint.
Why, the Steelers would scoff at such a conclusion.
"Not too much concern," said Isaac Redman, scheduled to start today's season opener against Tennessee eight days after the Steelers kicked leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer to the curb. "Everybody grasps the offense, so we can go out there and play fast. I think we're looking pretty good. We're ahead of where we were last year."
Last year they were the 21st best offense in a 32-team league, 26th on the ground, but Ben Roethlisberger isn't worried about even that, so why should you, right?
"Our running backs will be great," No. 7 said in his weekly 10-minute media watering. "I'm excited to see what Felix [Jones] can do and LaRod [Stephens-Howling] as well. I know what Redman brings to the table. He's been here and he's a good back for us."
No one has done a lot of speculating on where the touchdowns are going to come from, I guess because they always come from somewhere, but the potential sources aren't exactly ringing the walls of the locker room.
Most of those sources aren't there anymore.
Pittsburgh scored 36 touchdowns last season, which included one by linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The other 35 were by unavailable tight end Heath Miller (8), departed wide receiver Mike Wallace (8), curb-kicked running back Dwyer (2), departed tight end Leonard Pope (2), departed running back Chris Rainey (2), departed running back Baron Batch (1), out-for-the-season wideout Plaxico Burress (1), departed quarterback Byron Leftwich (1), departed running back Rashard Mendenhall (1), unlikely to play fullback Will Johnson (1), and three others who are -- get this -- actually available today.
Those would be Emmanuel Sanders (1), Redman (2) and Antonio Brown (5).
So exactly eight of last year's 35 offensive touchdowns were by people likely to be in uniform today.
"We shall see," said Redman when I asked who he figured would turn up in an end zone. "It doesn't bother us at all. We have Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, myself, Felix, LaRod, you know, the next guy guys step up. We're not gonna go back and try to look to see what guys did what or we don't have this guy or that guy. We're just gonna go out there and make plays."
Partly because the roster as currently constituted would list Roethlisberger as the second leading rusher, many of those plays Redman says they're gonna make will have to come in the passing game, the biggest problem for which hasn't changed all summer: No HEEEEAAAATH!
"Heath is the best tight end in the game," Ben said flatly. "He's a comfort blanket for me. He opens up the game for the wide receivers because he requires so much attention from linebackers and safeties. We definitely miss him."
The Steelers' MVP in 2012, Miller led all AFC tight ends with 816, a career high as were his eight TD's. The Steelers are 26-9 all-time when Miller finds the end zone, as he will again, one of these weeks.
In the meantime, few consider Pittsburgh's 10-game winning streak in home openers to be in jeopardy today, and some national prognosticators have the Steelers returning to the playoffs for the first time in two years or even winning the division.
You should know a lot more by about 4 o'clock, when it will be evident if a depleted offense could function against the Titans, the worst defense in the NFL world just last fall. Failure could suddenly make another 8-8 look awfully rosy.
"We were 8-8, we lost some veteran guys, we're getting too old, we're too young, there's a lot of stuff out there and I'm fine with it," Roethlisberger said. "Outsiders can doubt us all they want, that's fine. My motivation is trying to win every game. Lots of guys use it as motivation and it's not that we want to be great so we can rub it in all your guys's faces."
Hey, whatever works for ya.
Assuming something works today.
Maybe you shouldn't assume that either.Steelers - genecollier
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published September 8, 2013 4:00 AM